The Sand Pebbles 1966 ****

In 1966, an epic didn’t mean spacemen, aliens and super-heroes; it meant tough men, machines, history and a three hour running time. Three hours isn’t enough for Robert Wise’s The Sand Pebbles, a dramatic story of US sailors on board the titular boat, who find themselves caught between different factions in 1920’s China. Despite denials from the talent involved, Vietnam is a clear subtext, and there’s a clear through-line of guilt about the cost of patrolling and bring peace to the unwelcoming locals. Steve McQueen gives it his considerable all as a mechanic who steps up when the crew gets threatened, with Candice Bergen as the love-interest missionary, and Sir Richard Attenborough as the best pal who doesn’t make it to the final, impressive climax. Incidentally, co-star Emmanuelle Arsan went on to become the Emmanuelle, whose book became a notable soft-porn sensation and spawned countless imitations. She presumably had a good time making this; under Wise’s skilled direction, and with remarkable production values, it’s an absolute pleasure to watch.


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  1. Well, you got me on this one (I love this movie) in that I had never heard (and we’re talking decades now) of the Marayat-Emmanuelle connection. Guess I need to watch that auction scene again….

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